By Liz Ryan
Back in the dotcom era earlier in this decade, a hugely popular and influential book was Geoffrey Moore's Crossing the Chasm. It's a strategy book, and a marketing book - but, even several years later, the title also has enormous implications for networkers and job-seekers as well. That's because Crossing deals with branding, and what is networking but a one-on-one - and one-on-many - personal branding exercise?
Here's a very brief explanation of Moore's premise. Product developers and marketers are familiar with the Adoption Curve, the one that gets our products first into the hands of Early Adopters, then the not-quite-so-early adopters and other, larger groups until finally, one day, your Aunt Minnie has finally bought one of whatever we're selling.
We could be talking about iPods or Twitter or microwave ovens, or anything at all. We have the notion in mind that a tiny group of Early Adopter zealots only needs to try our product and love it, begin to spread the word, and the hordes of buyers will follow.
Moore's book points out that, in real life, the Adoption Curve isn't smooth - it's got 'chasms' in it, particularly between the earliest adopters and the larger groups of followers behind them. Early Adopters may try what we're selling because they love to try stuff, but hordes of folks like me and you and Aunt Minnie aren't necessarily hard on their heels.
What we need, argues Moore, to cross that chasm is one clear selling point - not ten million sexy and confusing ones.
For example, TiVo, at its launch, did a million cool things, but lots of people ended up buying it just to be able to skip the commercials. Early Adopters would 'get' and value TiVo's many other features, but non-gadget-heads might not.
And, that is what Moore recommends for marketers in general - to identify the single, thin filament by which to cross the chasm, and not to throw a dozen cables into the void in hopes that one will hit its mark.
Our task is very much the same in a job search, and in job-search networking. If I had a quarter for every job-seeker who's said to me, "Basically, I'm a problem-solver; I solve tough business problems" I'd have a house in Maui, and a condo in Manhattan.
Other folks say "I'm sort of a Sales/Marketing/Production/IT guy." That's four cables thrown out, and three of them are surplus, but it's not clear which three are the surplus.
As a fellow networker and introduction-maker, I can't process that message. That branding doesn't resonate with me. I want to know, "What's the one thing you do REALLY well?" Job-seekers need to decide. The answer can vary based on specific opportunities a candidate is pursuing, and on specific networking conversations.
If I'm meeting a job-seeker for the first time and he's heard that lots of my friends are publishers, then he may emphasize his business-development skills with me. Publishers need business-development help, in a big way.
Maybe my networking acquaintance has also done marketing, HR, and Finance, but with 'publishing' on his mind as he meets me for coffee, he'll keep the focus on his BizDev chops.
Branding involves making choices.
None of us can be all things to all people.
Like a new-product marketer, we need to find the filament that will help new contacts understand and retain what's unique and powerful about our job-search message.
That means forgoing the two-hour explanation of every job we've ever held, and zeroing in on a powerful message that a new friend can carry forward for us.
It might be "I've developed and launched six consumer products that generated at least $50M in revenue in their first year on the market." We get that.
It might be "I'm an HR manager with a special bent for recruiting; at Kraft, I filled eighty-four white-collar jobs last year, by myself." That's great.
We've got to avoid the temptation to say "I'm a business generalist - I can work in any function, and manage any situation." That's not memorable, nor credible, much less distinctive. It doesn't resonate.
In order to cross the networking chasm, we've got to dig a little deeper, and find the single, clear filament that will move our message to the folks who most badly need to hear it.
Liz Ryan is Job-Hunt's Networking Contributor. Liz is a former Fortune 500 VP and 25-year veteran of corporate human resources departments. In addition, Liz is the author of Happy About Online Networking and an internationally recognized expert on careers and the 21st century workplace. Find Liz on LinkedIn and on Google+.